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Exploring the Ghost Town of Elkmont Tennessee

Elkmont, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, offers a unique mix of history and natural beauty.

Originally a logging town, it later became a retreat for vacationers from nearby cities. Today, it’s known for its preserved ghost town and the annual natural phenomenon of synchronous fireflies.

Elkmont also serves as a starting point for several scenic hiking trails and provides a glimpse into early 20th-century Appalachian life. Whether you’re interested in history, hiking, or wildlife, Elkmont provides a straightforward and enriching experience.

Elkmont Tennessee-asthecrowfliesblog
Elkmont Tennessee | photo via asthecrowfliesblog

History of Elkmount

Elkmont Ghost Town, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, is a fascinating site with a rich history.

A Logging Town

Elkmont began as a logging town in the early 1900s when the Little River Lumber Company started extracting timber from the area. The logging operations brought railroads and workers, and soon, a small community developed.

By the 1910s and 1920s, Elkmont transitioned from a purely industrial town to a vacation destination for the wealthy. Vacation cottages were built, and the area became known for its “Appalachian Club” where affluent visitors from nearby cities like Knoxville would come to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. These visitors built rustic cabins and lodges, enjoying the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains.

Elkmont Tennessee
Elkmont Tennessee | photo via killemlysoftly

A Resort for the Elite

Elkmont originally became popular as a resort destination for the elite from Knoxville and other nearby cities. Members of the “Appalachian Club” and later the “Wonderland Club” built luxurious cottages and hosted lavish parties in this remote setting, contrasting sharply with the rugged life of the early logging days.

Secret Clubhouse and Social Hub

The Appalachian Clubhouse served as a social hub for the wealthy vacationers of Elkmont. It hosted dances, dinners, and meetings. Restored to its 1930s appearance, the clubhouse still stands as a reminder of the area’s socialite past.

Wonderland Hotel

Originally built in 1912 as part of the Wonderland Park resort community, the Wonderland Hotel was another center of luxury and social life in Elkmont. Although it fell into disrepair and most of it collapsed in 2005, it was once a bustling site with guests enjoying modern amenities of the time.

From Private to Public

As the national park was established in the 1930s, the fate of Elkmont changed. Many of the original leaseholders were given lifetime leases that were extended until 1992. After these leases expired, the National Park Service took over the management of the area. There was a lot of debate about what to do with the historic buildings. Some were demolished, but others have been preserved as part of a historical project to maintain the heritage of Elkmont.

Today, Elkmont Ghost Town is a popular spot for visitors to the park, offering a glimpse into the early 20th-century life in the region. Some of the remaining structures include the Appalachian Clubhouse and several cottages, which have been stabilized and preserved. The area also serves as a trailhead for several hiking trails, allowing visitors to explore the natural and historical aspects of Elkmont in the scenic surroundings of the Smoky Mountains.

Elkmont Tennessee
Elkmont Tennessee | photo via xanderstone12

Things to Do at Elkmont

Elkmont offers several attractions for visitors interested in history, hiking, and nature. Here’s a look at what you can explore at Elkmont today:

Historic Buildings

For those interested in the “ghost town” aspect, walking through the abandoned parts of Elkmont where some structures remain in various states of decay can be quite intriguing. These areas provide a haunting glimpse into a past era, although safety restrictions apply in certain areas.

Several of the original early 20th-century buildings have been preserved, including the Appalachian Clubhouse and several vacation cottages. These buildings have been maintained or restored to reflect their historic appearances, giving visitors a tangible connection to the past of the region.

Hiking Trails

Elkmont is a great starting point for numerous hiking trails that range from easy to challenging. Popular trails include:

  • Jakes Creek Trail: This trail leads past several historic sites and into the higher elevations surrounding Elkmont.
  • Little River Trail: Known for its relatively flat path, it follows the route of the old railroad used by the Little River Lumber Company, offering views of the Little River and remnants of the area’s logging history.
  • Elkmont Nature Trail: A shorter loop that is great for families and casual hikers, providing educational signage about the local flora and fauna.


The Elkmont Campground is one of the largest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering numerous campsites with varying degrees of amenities. It’s a popular base camp for those looking to explore the broader area.

Elkmont Campground is nestled along the banks of the Little River, providing a scenic and tranquil setting. It is one of the most popular campgrounds in the park due to its beautiful surroundings and its proximity to historic sites and hiking trails.

Photography and Wildlife Watching

The area’s abundant natural beauty and historical structures make it a favorite spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts. Wildlife in the area includes black bears, deer, and numerous bird species.

Ranger-Led Programs

During the tourist season, park rangers often conduct guided tours and educational programs that focus on the history and ecology of Elkmont and the surrounding park.

Synchronous Fireflies

Each year, typically in early June, Elkmont attracts thousands of visitors for a natural phenomenon that is rare in the United States – the synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus). During their mating season, these fireflies flash in unison in one of the few places this occurs in the world, making it a major event for which the park holds a lottery for viewing spots.

Elkmont Tennessee
Elkmont Tennessee | photo via xanderstone12

Explore Elkmont

Visiting Elkmont provides a rich experience combining natural beauty with historical depth, appealing to a wide range of interests. Whether you’re there to hike, camp, learn, or simply enjoy the scenery, Elkmont has much to offer.

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